• Law, Policy -- and IT?

    Tracy Mitrano explores the intersection where higher education, the Internet and the world meet (and sometimes collide).



Time to take stock.

February 21, 2017

From time to time, either in comments or in conversation, I am asked how it is that in a blog themed “Law, Policy and IT” I discuss politics. Easy answer: Because it is all connected. As time after time I noted throughout the campaign season the greatest fault that the presidential election exhibited was the absence of discourse about the internet and its impact on almost every aspect of American society, from jobs to the economy, fake news and cybersecurity.  Both major parties faulted on that line, and we have now something of the result: an election influenced by the Russian government, a slow-to-the-take major internet companies, including Google and especially Facebook, and young adults from Macedonia to West Asia acting in the good-old American way of doing whatever it takes to make a buck.

Now, as we descend into the deeper and darker corners of an unhealthy president’s personality, a Congress no more efficient that the previous house divided, and a Supreme Court still not at full strength for the failure of both parties to obey the Constitution, it is time to take stock.  To be sure, since its colonial beginnings, the United States has never been a homogenous society.  Historically, if one were to plot they cycles of relative union and disunion, World War II and its immediate aftermath registers as the high-water mark of putting our crazy quilt society together in a recognizable pattern. The fault lines of that pattern emerged quickly, however, first in paranoid extreme conformity of Joseph McCarthy’s communist witch hunt, then with the civil rights movement, anti-Vietnam War protests and generational divides.  In the last quarter of the twentieth-century, myriad influences began to rock the country, some obvious – stagflation, fossil fuel dependence on the Middle East, some less so – and in this category I would put new immigration patterns and policy as well as the economic influences of a transition from an industrial to an information economy, accelerated powerfully by information technologies.

We have been at extreme junctures before. The Civil War, of course, is principal example.  But viewed from a developmental perspective, the unification of two different political economies, one ancient and withered, the other contemporary and emerging, set the United States on its course of tremendous nation-state ascendency. The divides we have in the United States today do not reflect that same kind of positive trajectory. The Old South at least had a coherent political ideology. The new administration and its alt-right supporters are incoherent and chaotic. To some, the fascist true believers – including some of the extreme religious right – that is consistent with the quality of disruption they believe will become the ground for the new society … however they choose to define it as both sacred and profane. Historically, such tendencies bespeak only instability, the kind that brings down civilizations. The kind of opportunity that moved 77,000 people in key districts to vote for Trump that turned the election don’t want that kind. The narcissists and the fascists won’t make that clear. They prefer to take advantage of the bait and switch they hope to bring about in American society. 

In three paragraphs, I hope I have at least touched the surface of how internet culture, law and politics intersect.  Therefore, if I, or anyone else for that matter – including you – want to understand contemporary internet issues, you and I must view all other aspects of U.S. and global society.  Do you think, for example, that China is holding off on economic development in technology and energy fields until Trump makes up his mind about foreign policy?  Here is one small example I noted recently while in Tanzania.  Guess what country is both funding and constructing the major highways in East Africa?  Not the U.S., China.  Back home, Congress is poised to withdraw its humanitarian support from Africa, lately brought to you by a Republican president, by the way.  And guess what continent almost all the consumer electronics come from in Africa?  Right, it’s Asia, not North America.

In last week’s post, I alluded to the new administration’s F.C.C. policy.  I respect the personal journey of the new chairman, Ajit Varadaraj Pai, but not his policies which are all pro-telecomm and have the potential to undermine “net neutrality,” or what the previous chairman, Tom Wheeler, termed “open internet.”  It may be that this administration will re-categorize the internet back to an information service, and then propose net neutrality rules, as Wheeler once proposed. But I doubt it. Trump shows no clear policy on anything (except himself).  His administration is riddled with instability, I would not make that assumption nor would I support a switch now.

Where is the leadership in this country to provide the vision of relatively unity that we need to go forward?  With policy that transcends Democratic and Republican divides?  With an authenticity and integrity that we can believe in?  I know it is out there somewhere.  My only fear is that we all become so bound by our own divides that we won’t recognize it.  It’s intermission time.  The next act is for us all to open our ears, our hearts and our eyes.


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